Daines, Tester offer contrasting views on Barrett’s confirmation

Montana’s Republican senator celebrated the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday while the state’s Democratic senator condemned the vote and accused the GOP of hypocrisy, illustrating the partisan divide that has hung over the court vacancy since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month.

The Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Barrett, a conservative appeals court judge, to the Supreme Court on Monday evening, just 30 days after President Donald Trump nominated her. She was sworn in shortly afterward during a ceremony at the White House.

“She is a brilliant jurist, and as a mother of seven children, she is an inspiration to professional women, working moms and school-aged girls across Montana who can feel certain there is no American dream that women can’t achieve,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, said in a statement after the vote. “Justice Barrett will safeguard our liberties, defend the Constitution and protect our Montana way of life – including the Second Amendment and our Montana jobs – for decades to come.”

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester criticized the White House and Republican senators for racing to confirm Barrett so close to a presidential election, four years after refusing to hold a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the court by then-President Barack Obama.

“Montanans are already voting in this election, and I believe it is deeply irresponsible to ram a partisan nomination through in the final days before polls close – a precedent my Republican colleagues established four years ago and are breaking now,” Tester said in a statement.

Tester’s office said he repeatedly requested a meeting with Barrett “before making his decision on her nomination,” but the White House did not make Barrett available for a meeting or a phone call.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, appeared to contradict Tester in a floor speech before Monday’s vote, saying, “There have been one-on-one meetings for every senator who wanted one.”

David Popp, a spokesman for McConnell, referred questions to the White House.

In an email Tuesday, White House spokesman Judd Deere did not say whether Tester was offered a meeting with Barrett. Instead, Deere pointed to a Sept. 26 tweet in which Tester said the Supreme Court vacancy should be filled “when the next president is sworn in.”

“To suggest Sen. Tester approached Justice Barrett’s nomination with an open mind is disingenuous – he was opposed from the beginning,” Deere wrote. “Also, Tester has never voted to confirm ANY of the president’s well-qualified nominees to the Supreme Court. He can pretend to be a moderate all he wants, but at the end of the day, this senator votes against justices who interpret the Constitution as written.”

Tester noted the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case challenging the Affordable Care Act next month. Progressives fear that Barrett, as part of the court’s new 6-3 conservative majority, will help upend that health care law as well as the court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.

“Had the White House granted me a meeting with Judge Barrett, I would have questioned her at length about her apparent openness to striking down the Affordable Care Act and its protections for 120 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, and other critical issues like dark money in politics and a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions,” Tester said.

Daines’ office shared a photo of the senator meeting with Barrett on Oct. 1.

Speaking on the Senate floor before a procedural vote on Saturday, Daines said Barrett “will not bend to the radical fringe groups looking to kill Montana timber and coal jobs” and “won’t misuse her power as a judge to impose her policy preferences.”

Daines also criticized some on the “far left” who have embraced the idea of adding justices or “packing” the court to offset the conservative majority. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has proposed assembling a panel of experts to study and make a recommendation on the matter.

Tester’s press secretary, Roy Lowenstein, would not describe the senator’s stance on a potential expansion of the court.

“Sen. Tester is focused on getting a bipartisan economic relief package that will provide relief to Montana families and businesses, not on partisan, political hypotheticals pushed by Sen. McConnell,” Lowenstein said in an email Monday.